Wax poetic

“Wax poetic” is an English phrase that is used to describe someone’s overly flowery and longwinded style of speech.

If one person waxes poetic on a subject they’re spending too much time on it and using diction that’s likely not suited to the situation. It’s unclear exactly when “wax poetic” was used in writing for the first time, but it and its synonyms all date from the 1800s. 

Wax poetic meaning

 

Meaning 

“Wax poetic” is a phrase used to describe someone’s speech. This person would be speaking in an increasingly poetic manner, using flowery words, growing more enthusiastic with every sentence, and might be using poetic diction. Often, this phrase is used in a derogatory manner. Meaning, someone uses it in order to draw attention to another’s over-the-top or long-winded speech. It’s likely, in this scenario, that the person “waxing poetic” is in a setting where that type of speech is not expected and might be making other people uncomfortable.

There are several other phrases that are commonly associated with waxing poetic, they include “wax eloquent” and “wax lyrical.” These are perhaps easier to understand in context. They both suggest exaggerated language that belongs in a very specific place and time. 

 

When to Use “Wax Poetic”

It’s possible to use “wax poetic” in a wide variety of situations. The most common is when someone calls out another person for “waxing poetic” and going over the top with what they’re doing and/or saying. This might occur at a family gathering, business or academic meeting, or any other kind of get-together where long-winded speeches with unnecessarily elegant language are not wanted or needed. It is possible to use the phrase in a more positive way, for example, telling someone genuinely that they “wax poetic beautifully” or that one person loves to hear another “wax poetic” on a subject they both care about. 

 

When to “Wax Poetic”? 

Unfortunately, “wax poetic” is most commonly used in a derogatory sense. This is due to the fact that it is closely related to unwanted, lengthy speeches rather than those that the listeners were hoping to hear and enjoy listening to. Therefore, if someone has the urge to “wax poetic” on a subject, or speak about it passionately and eloquently, it’s best to find the right audience or a setting in which you won’t get booed off the stage or glared at by your colleagues. 

 

Example Sentences with “Wax Poetic”

  • Can you believe her? She could wax poetic all night. 
  • I didn’t know how to stop him, he got up there and started waxing poetic and he went on for hours.
  • I have to be careful not to wax poetic tonight, you know how my family feels about long speeches. 
  • We all know it’s frustrating but if we let dad wax poetic for a few minutes he’ll be happier for it. 
  • I better not get started on that topic, before we know it I’ll be waxing poetic and you won’t be able to stop me. 

 

Wax Poetic Synonyms

  • Wax eloquent
  • wax lyrical 

 

Origins

Wax poetic originates from the image of “waxing,” meaning to “grow,” which is most commonly used in reference to the moon waxing and waning. Today, “wax” is only used with this archaic definition in regard to speech when someone says “wax poetic,”  “wax lyrical, or “wax eloquent.” The latter was the first version used and dates back to the early 19th century. According to Phrases, the phrase appears in Bracebridge Hall, a collection of essays by Washington Irving which was published in 1824. He uses the following line after describing the words of a friar speaking about the country “covered with manufacturing towns” and “reeking of coal pits.” 

The squire is apt to wax eloquent on such themes.

In this instance, he is using the phrase in a derogatory manner as it is most commonly used today. The same can’t be said for the first known example of “wax poetic” in literature. The phrase can be found in How I Found Livingston, published in 1872 by Sir Henry Morton Stanley. It reads: 

One could almost wax poetic, but we will keep such ambitious ideas for a future day.

Here, the speaker is alluding to their desire to “wax poetic” on a topic but is holding back. The final version of the phrase, wax lyrical, is found, also according to Phrases, in Gilbert Cannan’s translation of Jean-Christophe in Paris published in 1911. Here, the lines read: 

He had the genius of taste except at certain moments when the Massenet slumbering in the heart of every Frenchman awoke and waxed lyrical. 

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